On Wednesday March 21, the Post-Graduate Students’ Society (PGSS) convened at the Thompson House Ballroom for their monthly council meeting. Around 40 graduate students and councillors were in attendance. The council heard a presentation from Kathleen Godfrey, then entered a lengthy debate on the motion to amend the roles and duties of commissioners in PGSS.
Council voted on four motions: one regarding commissioner roles and duties, another regarding the appointment of a PGSS sponsorship commissioner, followed by a motion regarding the library improvement fund, and finally a motion to amend the PGSS budget. Three motions passed, two of which were amended. The motion regarding the sponsorship commissioner was tabled.
The council heard a presentation from Kathleen Godfrey, a representative of Kathleen’s Friends, an organization connecting intergenerational students to improve social and mental well being on campus. The initiative was started in partnership with McGill Community for Lifelong Learning (MCLL) and the undergraduate and graduate student communities.
“MCLL […] is primarily a retiree community. […] Essentially, what we are trying to do together with some funding from the dean’s office is start intergenerational conversation and community on the McGill campus,” said Godfrey.
Godfrey mentioned that Kathleen’s Friends is currently expanding, and may be seeking endorsement from the PGSS in the future.
“We’re trying to create a team […] of undergrads, grads, […] and older learners at McGill to try to enhance […] learning,” Godfrey explained.“We are going to […] try to formalize this group in a partnership […] under whatever heading that makes sense to the Dean of Students office. […] I’m bringing this to PGSS and other grad students perhaps down the road seeking some endorsement.”
Motion to amend PGSS activities manual
The motion to amend the PGSS activities manual to amend the role and duties of PGSS commissioners was presented by Matthew Satterthwaite, the PGSS’ Financial Affairs Officer.
“We’ve come to the realization that the way commissioners are currently positioned within the PGSS is no longer sustainable, Satterthwaite explained. “Portfolios have expanded so much [..] over the past years that they [commissioners] now need more support from executives. […] You have commissioners who are working 30, 40 hours on certain portfolios, and that’s no longer sustainable.”
“The spirit behind these amendments is to better define the role and the scope of the role of the commissioner portfolio within the PGSS [and] align portfolios to allow support directly from the executives,” continued Satterthwaite.
According to Satterthwaite, the motions have been endorsed by the executive committee and approved unanimously by the commissioners caucus. According to PGSS Secretary General Maria Tippler, several commissioners have left their positions throughout the semester, prompting the motion.
However, concerns over the autonomy of the commissioner role was raised amongst audience members, prompting a debate on the issue. One of the audience members pointed out that one of the clauses consists of co-chairing meetings of executives and commissioners in portfolio meetings.
“The reason they were made co-chairs was to give executives a seat on that committee, in the case the commissioner can’t be there, responded Satterthwaite.“It’s just a way to place the executives in the meetings when required.”
Satterthwaite emphasized that the executive member would be a non-voting chair, and that commissioners take up to 3-4 hours to prepare for an Annual General Meeting (AGM), which could be allocated to portfolios if reporting was deferred to executives.
However, multiple councillors raised concerns that the role of the co-chair, and the reporting relationship to the executive was not clearly defined.
“All I see here is just a […] change in the reporting relationship where commissioners are no longer accountable to council, but rather […] to the executive. […] how does this define their activities more? Because that’s not what I see here,” said Amir Nosrat, PGSS Environmental Commissioner. “[In] PGSS, there is debate on whether we concentrate power or distribute power.
“This is to me is about concentrating power […] and authority,” he concluded.
Bradley Por, the Graduate Law Students’ Association (GLSA) representative, questioned why the proposed motion would place commissioners under the supervision of executives, as opposed to the current system, where the commissioner would report to the council.
“By using the word supervise, it actually does imply a power […] when somebody supervises someone else, it […] impl[ies] authority.”
Satterthwaite responded to Por by explaining that the intention was for the executive to “be more hands on and collaborative.”
Por also pointed out that the motion also changes the way in which commissioners are dismissed in writing.
“It […] does give power objectively to the executive in the text by writing the word supervise in, by writing in that executive can remove them from office even though it has to be ratified by the council,” Por stated. “They didn’t have that power before. It definitely, concretely, in writing, gives executives more power than the commissioners.”
After a lengthy question period and debate regarding the PGSS activities manual, the motion was amended to strike all items except for the whereas clauses and item 5.7, a line specifying the pay and hour of the commissioner. According to Satterthwaite, the motion would increase the commissioners’ salary by $200 per year, which would be reflected in the subsequent year’s budget. The motion was passed with three abstaining and one opposing vote.
The motion to create a PGSS Sponsorship Commissioner position supervised under the Financial Affairs was tabled after several councillors mentioned “there needs [to be] reflection on the relationship of the commissioner to council to executives.” For similar reasons, the motion to amend the Library Improvement Fund was also amended to exclude the clause concerning the Library Improvement Commissioner. The motion to amend the budget was passed without amendments.